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Maureen Laws: A pioneering nurse who set new standards for her profession - Nursing Heroes - Nurses Arena Forum

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Maureen Laws: A pioneering nurse who set new standards for her profession by katty : April 22, 2018, 09:23:18 AM
Maureen Laws, nurse: b October 5, 1939, Christchurch; d March 3, 2018, Wellington; aged 78.

In 1999, Mike Sexton's adoptive parents had died, and he thought it was time to seek out his birth mother. He encountered in Maureen Laws an independent, well-educated, well-travelled woman with a great many threads to her life: a pioneering nurse, who broke new ground for many in her profession; a devoted Roman Catholic, who gave much of her time and energy to her church; and a lifelong animal lover, who cared as much for the inmates of the Cats Protection League shelter as she did for her patients.

Every Tuesday she would up at 4.30am for the early shift at the Wellington shelter in Vancouver St, Kingston, and would routinely work a 10-hour day, as well as working weekends in the shop, and spending part of every day at St Anne's Church in Newtown.

"She was a very good woman," Sexton says, "non-judgmental and non-critical." The decision to give him up for adoption was a pragmatic one, taken in what she firmly believed was his best interests.

She was never one to blow her own trumpet, and it was only with time that he discovered her ground-breaking achievements in nursing. She began her career as a nurse in Christchurch, and later as a midwife in Edinburgh. By the end of the 1970s, she had gone on to get a bachelor's degree from Auckland University, and a master's from McGill, in Montreal.

Her gift as what might now be described as a "change manager" within the nursing profession was that she could translate the intellectual into everyday practice. She didn't just write about how things could be done better; she showed others how they could do it too.

In the great shakeup of the 1980s and 90s, she wrote the blueprint for how nursing could and should be. Her social policy statement set out the profession's "social contract" with wider society; established regulatory and professional bodies; and gave nursing an identity and sense of responsibility.

Having written the policy documents, she returned to the coalface, as a clinical nurse consultant at Wellington Hospital. Even after retiring, she returned to work in aged care at Te Hopai rest home, beside Wellington Hospital.

Her faith was as important to her as her work. At St Anne's, she again employed her talents to bring disparate parts of the parish together. Noticing, for instance, that the strong Samoan community did not seem fully integrated, she decided the best way to bring it into the fold was to join it, right down to becoming a member of the choir.

At her well-attended funeral, many of the congregation paid tribute to her ability to engage with everyone, and most of all "to get things done".

In many respects, she was, as long-time friend and colleague Julie Foley put it, "the epitome of a single lady", giving her life to her church and her cats. So it came as some surprise to many to discover she had been an unmarried mother.

"She came to me and said, 'I've got something to tell you'," Foley said. "I was totally blown away.

"She told me, 'I thought people would judge me – not for having a baby, but for giving him away."

But the parish seemed to take it in its stride, according to Monsignor Gerard Burns. "People just gradually said, 'That's great, that's fine'."

The congregation contained members of many different backgrounds, including refugees, and there were "much bigger things in life that people had been through. People just were very happy that Maureen had that extra dimension to her life".

It was "a great joy" to her to be reconnected with Sexton, and with his children, Burns said.

She and her son became close, and she enjoyed her grandchildren immensely, taking them on outings to the Children's Bookshop in Kilbirnie.

Beyond the church, she poured her considerable energies and compassion into looking after the cats at the Kingston shelter, where she was described as a voice of calm, kindness and good sense. Though she gave the cats the highest standards of care, that pragmatism was always there, Sexton said: if they weren't well, it was "off to God they go".

The last thing she said to a friend at St Anne's before going into hospital for the last time was that she was off to buy meat for the cats.

She died on March 3, from a punctured aortic valve, not long after a bad fall that shattered her shoulder and hip. She needed a seven-hour operation, but appeared to be recovering well. But she went into hospital again, for surgery on the ruptured valve, and never recovered consciousness.

– By Patrick Piercy
Sources: Mike Sexton, Merian Litchfield, Julie Foley, Monsignor Gerard Burns, Cats Protection Wellington

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